Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy—an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.
But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under the attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…

This book was pretty cool. A kid who grows up in a graveyard with ghosts for parents? Talk about interesting reading. The fun thing about this book is it reads like a series of clips taken from Bod's life and experiences as he ages. It's only about 300 pages, but it feels like Mr. Gaiman took pains to make Bod's character sure. It covers Bod's experiences with goul gates, hounds of god, ghosts in general, hauntings, and fear. Body's story is both coming of age with a twist, a mystery, and a perpetual adventure.  It's a great spooky story about a kid who has to figure out what a living means while surrounded by the dead. Perhaps Bod knows what living is better than anyone else...

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

By Avi

Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: if strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as I lived it.

This was a fun story by Avi full of mystery and adventure on the high seas. This is a novel about a young girl (13 if I read correctly) that, through a set of strange circumstances, travels alone on a merchant ship from England to her home in America after having finished school to join her family. Her trip is a growing and learning experience. Should she trust the gentlemanly captain of the ship, or should she trust the black cook Zackarias who is rough but friendly? There are many hints and clues that there are things that aren't right on the ship Seahawk- like the men who ran away from the ship on the docks, or how Zacharias thinks Charlotte needs a knife to protect herself, or how the captain asks her to spy on the crew...
This is a fun read that taught me a lot about ships and sailing. There are diagrams in the back so you know what she talks about when she mentions the forelock and the galley. It is an intense read with murder and mystery abounding. I was actually surprised a few times while reading it; you'll enjoy Charlotte's voice.

Friday, November 4, 2011


By Ally Condie

Rules are different outside the society. Chasing down an uncertain future, Cassia makes her way to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky—taken by the Society to his sure death—only to find that he has escaped into the majestic, but treacherous, canyons. On this wild frontier are glimmers of a different life and the enthralling promise of rebellion. But even as Cassia sacrifices everything to reunite with Ky, ingenious surprises from Xander may change the game once again.

I got this sequel to Matched yesterday...and finished yesterday. I was sick and so the perfect opportunity to read presented itself. I'm quite taken with the tone of this novel, as well as the love story and the dystopian future where choice is all but gone. This is a novel that focuses a lot on the power of words, poetry, and love, and freedom. There is a sweet lyrical rhythm to Ally's writing that I love, that speaks to your heart. I really enjoyed the first half of the book as Cassia and Ky are telling their stories of how they plan to find each other again. The novel takes turns between Ky's perspective and Cassia's. There are new characters introduced that I both liked and didn't like. This books mostly takes place in the Outer Provinces in the Carving (the canyons) that are reminiscent of Utah's Bryce Canyon and Zion's Park. I can't really tell much without giving things away, but I will say that I was happy with this second book and will read it again. Sometimes when I inhale a book that way I miss details, and I really love the poetry of it.

Below is an excerpt, the first chapter in Ky's perspective just to give you a taste!

Crossed Chapter 1


I'm standing in a river. It's blue. Dark blue. Reflecting the color of evening sky.
I don't move. The river does. It pushes against me and hisses through the grass at the water's edge. "Get out of there," the Officer says. He shines his flashlight on us from his position on the bank.
"You said to put the body in the water," I say, choosing to misunderstand the Officer.
"I didn't say you had to get in yourself," the Officer says. "Let go and get out. And bring his coat. He doesn't need it now."
I glance up at Vick, who helps me with the body. Vick doesn't step into the water. He's not from around here, but everyone in camp knows the rumors about the poisoned rivers in the Outer Provinces.
"It's all right," I tell Vick quietly. The Officers and Officials want us to be scared of this river- of all rivers- so that we never try to drink from them and never try to cross over.
"Don't you want a tissue sample?" I call out to the Officer on the bank while Vick hesitates. The icy water reaches my knees, and the dead boy's head lolls back, his open eyes staring at the sky. the dead don't see but I do.
I see too many things. I always have. Words and pictures connect together in my mind in strange ways and I notice details wherever I am. Like now. Vick's no coward but fear films his face. The dead boy's sleeves are frayed with threads that catch the water where his arm dangles down. His thin ankles and bare feet glow pale in Vick's hands as Vic steps closer to the bank. The Officer already had us take the boots from the body. Now he swings them back and forthby the laces, a sweep of black keeping time. With his other hand he points the round beam of the flashlight right into my eyes.
I throw the coat to the Officer. He has to drop the boots to catch it. "You can let go," I tell Vick. "He's not heavy. I can take care of it."
But Vick steps in too. Now the dead boy's legs are wet and his black plainclothes sodden. "It's not much of a Final Banquet," Vick calls out to the Officer. There's anger in Vick's voice. "Was that dinner last night something he chose? if it was, he deserves to be dead."
It's been so long since I've let myself feel anger that I don't just feel it. It covers my mouth and I swallow it down, the tast sharp and metal as though I'm gnawing through foilware. This boy died because the Officers judged wrong. They didn't give him enough water and now he's dead too soon.
We have to hide the body because we're not supposed to die in this holding camp. We're supposed to wait until they send us out to the villages so the Enemy can take care of us there. It doesn't alwyas work that way.
The Society wants us to be afraid of dying. But I'm not. I'm only afraid of dying wrong.
"This is how Aberrations end," the Officer tells us impatiently. He takes a step in our direction. "You know that. There's no last meal. There's no last words. Let go and get out."
This is how Abberations end. Looking down I see that the water has gone black with the sky. I don't let go yet.
Citizens end with banquets. Last words. Stored tissue samples to give them a chance at immortality.
I can't do anything about the food or the sample but I do have words. They're always there rolling through my mind with the pictures and numbers.
So I whisper some that seem to fit the river and the death:

"For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far, 
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar."

Vick looks at me, surprised.
"Let go," I tell him, and at the same time we do.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

Okay, here's a book I would never have read if not for college classes. This book made me sick. I can't believe all the stuff that goes on that we don't know about; I'm kinda hoping that Ms. Skloot was a bit elaborate in her telling of the story of Henrietta and her family and her cells. There's a lot of science in this book that is downright interesting enough that I would have loved to read just the science stuff because the human interest behind the story is tragic and horror-filled. Take a black family that doesn't much mind about incest, isn't able to educate themselves, is abusive, molesters, and has a case of murder and you have a very brief history of the Lack's misfortune. Take the doctor and science point of view about taking a woman's cells without her knowledge and then you start to wonder...what else are they doing that we don't know about? This book made me slightly paranoid of doctors. I can't and won't reccommend this book because of the mention of abuse and incest and molestation among other racial and ethical crimes. It's an emotionally hard book to read, but extremely well-written and, as far as I can tell, well-researched. If you have a second go look up Henrietta online. It's just too interesting not to know the science part of her life. Chances are, someone in your family is alive today because Henrietta died...

A Door in the Woods

By James Dashner

Jimmy Fincher entered the dark woods on a day like any other. But what he sees there changes his perception of reality and sets off a chain of events that explodes in a torrent of suspense and excitement. An ancient legend come to life. A conspiracy of madmen. Strange portals to other worlds. Villains named everything from Raspy to Shadow Ka. And behind it all is the old wooden door, lying deep in the forest by Fincher’s home. There, the world will change forever.

This is James Dashner's first series (The 13th Reality, The Maze Runner) and I thought it sounded fun and it was a fairly light read at 171 pages. It features Jimmy Fincher of Georgia, a kid who is adventurous and loves to climb trees- and name them. Jimmy stumbles into a fight that he never wanted a part of, filled with world-hopping, cool new powers, strange and terrifying monsters, and mysteries galore. This book is age appropriate for middle school aged kids and is a fun read for boys. This is the first in a 3 book series, of which I intend to read and review, but so far I'm having fun with Jimmy (though it is at times immaturely written and kidish- it's his first book people!) so I'll let you know if Jimmy is worth your time in the near future.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

This masterpiece of the duality of good and evil in man’s nature sprang from the darkest recesses of his own unconscious—during a nightmare from which his wife awakened him, alerted by his screams. More than a hundred years later, this tale of the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll and the drug that unleashes his evil, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde—has lost none of its ability to shock. Its realistic police-style narrative chillingly relates Jekyll’s desperation as Hyde gains control—and gives voice to our own fears of the violence and evil within us.

So I decided I needed to read a spooky book for Halloween, and I just happened to have this on my shelf with the intent to read it at one point, so I thought what the heck. It was pretty fun to read a book that is so well known without really being well known. All the movies and portrayals of Hyde are wrongo-bongo. I was surprised by this narrative, which is weird because I've grown up knowing about it. It's really creepy in the way it lays bare the part of human nature that just wants to let go and do whatever crosses the mind. It shows what goes wrong when we allow ourselves to tap into those deepest darkest temptations and curiosities. Psycho thriller-esque. Old school style. Good quick read for a scary night.